Few ballet moves are as iconic as the arabesque. In this position, you balance on one foot, while the other leg turns out and reaches horizontally behind you. Of course, you need strength in the standing leg, a perfect point, excellent turnout and extraordinary control of your hip flexors. However, to perform an arabesque, you also need lower back flexibility and strength.
To develop this challenging position, train your back extensors so your torso stays upright as your leg extends to the back. Weakness in the extensors makes your torso fall forward.
Read More: Lower Back Extension Exercises
The back extension trains the muscles of the lower back. Start with the variation that makes you feel like your muscles are working, but not straining or pinching. Eventually, you can use a mini stability ball — the type you often see in Pilates that measures about 23 centimeters in diameter — to add greater challenge to this exercise. Once you can easily repeat 15 repetitions of a progression, move to the next one.
Progression 1: Lie on your belly on an exercise mat with your hands under your shoulders and elbows against your ribs. Inhale, press down with your palms to lift your face, fronts of shoulders and chest up. Keep your feet in the mat. Hold for 1 to 2 counts. Exhale and lower.
Progression 2: Lie on your belly on an exercise mat with your arms extended in front of your head. Inhale and lift your arms, keeping them by your ears, face and chest. Press your feet toward the floor. Hold for 1 to 2 counts. Exhale and lower.
Progression 3: Place the mini stability ball under your lower ribs, just above your navel as you lie on your belly on a mat. Place your hands under your forehead, elbows pointing to the sides of the room. Keep your feet pressed into the floor. Start to lift your face and chest up off of the ball. Reach your arms up by your ears in fifth position. Hold for a count, then lower.
Supermans train your back, butt, shoulders and hamstrings — all of which play an important role in a graceful arabesque.
How to: Lie on your abdomen on an exercise mat with your legs no wider than hip distance apart. Reach your arms up by your ears. Inhale as you lift your arms, face, chest and legs. Hold for 1 to 2 counts, then lower. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
Make supermans harder by adding a flutter, such as in the swimming exercise from Pilates. When you're lifted into the top of the superman position, raise your right arm and left leg a little higher. Immediately switch to raise the left arm and right leg. Continue to flutter for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Read More: Pilates Lengthening Exercises
Two to three regular Pilates classes per week, on the mat or the reformer, helps you isolate the muscles of your back, as well as your hamstring and outer hip, to perfect your arabesque.
You'll also benefit from foam rolling between or after classes. Place the roller perpendicular to your lower back, support your head with your hands and slowly move it along the length of your spine. As you reach the middle- to upper-back region, arch backward over it. Lift your chest back up and reverse the roll back down to your low back. Repeat about five times total.